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Game 26: Wild vs Maple Leafs game preview, how to watch, listen

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Game 26: Minnesota Wild vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Time & Location: 6:00 PM CST | Xcel Energy Center | St. Paul, MN
How to Watch: Fox Sports North Plus | Fox Sports GO | CBC | SportsNet | NHL.tv
How to Listen: FM 100.3 KFXN | Wild Radio Network | TSN/Sportsnet

The Wild are struggling. They’ve given up a bunch of goals, and a lack of confidence has blanketed the team like the snow storm headed for the Twin Cities and Southern Minnesota.

The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, are only getting stronger. Auston Matthews returned to an already strong 18-8 team. The impasse with William Nylander should have a resolution soon and this team is likely to get better.

Both teams are heading in different directions and will face off Saturday night in St. Paul.

The Maple Leafs don’t need him, and Nylander other teams

Toronto comes in riding a three-game winning streak and are 7-3 in their last ten games. But the story of the week was the return of Auston Matthews. He scored two goals and added an assist in his return after missing a month with a shoulder injury. His performance helped lift the Leafs over the Sharks.

This will also be our first chance to get a look at John Tavares in Blue & White since signing the mega deal worth $77 Million over seven years in the offseason. He’s been nothing short of great for Toronto, leading the team with 17 goals, while adding 13 assists in 26 games. Ahhh...So that’s what $11 million per year will get you.

The Maple Leafs don’t just have weapons up front. No sir! When Matt Dumba scored his tenth goal, he passed Maple Leaf defenseman Morgan Rielly for the league lead. Rielly has nine goals, 19 assists, and leads the team in average ice time.

The big story is the William Nylander contract debacle. The two sides have until 5 PM EST Saturday (TODAY) to come to an agreement, or the hold-out will continue into the offseason. Nylander is looking for a large pay-out, in sum of around $8 million per year. The 22-year old forward has scored over 20 goals and 60 points in every season, and he likely deserves the contract. However, Kyle Dubas, the Maple Leafs’ general manager just forked over a wheelbarrow of cash to Tavares in the offseason. Dubas, as any GM would, is trying to keep costs low and is playing hardball with the former 8th overall pick. The kid has a bright future, so $8 million, with a salary cap ceiling that looks to continue to rise, is probably fair for a top-flight center in the league.

That said, the success of the team to this point, the addition of Matthews after missing a month, and the boat load of prospects dominating the AHL, it’s likely that’s what killed the Nylander deal, or at least the overall urgency to get him signed.

Stopping pucks has to get back on Wild’s radar

After a losing two consecutive games for the first time this season just two weeks ago, the Minnesota Wild have had mixed results. With a thrilling over the Winnipeg Jets and avoiding disaster against the Ottawa Senators, the Wild have given up 3 or more goals in each of their five losses that have come in the last eight games after their 5-2 road trip. When they’ve won, two of the three games saw only 2 goals allowed.

As the goals pile up in their net, the team seems to be playing with less and less confidence on the ice. This team was riding high through the West Coast and could seemingly beat anyone on any given night. Now the goaltenders, mostly Devan Dubnyk, haven’t been great at stopping the puck, and the defense, especially in the standard defensive zone coverage, has not helped out.

During the last eight games, the Wild have slipped below 50 percent in the goals for category at 5-on-5 even though they have controlled scoring chances for throughout. The 5-on-5 save percentage over that span is second worst in the league with 85.90 percent, just behind the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now that the calendar has flipped to December, this team needs to flip the script on their recent trend of surrendering goals.

Zach Parise leads the team with 12 goals, followed by Mikael Granlund (11) and Matt Dumba (10).

Puck drop is just after 6 PM. The game thread will open around 5:30.